Episode five of this season’s The Newsroom proved to be a low-key affair, diverging from Season 2′s framing device of the investigation into the actual investigation of Operation Genoa for a real-time, slice-of-life look at the goings on at Atlantis Cable News during one broadcast – little of it seemingly relevant to creator Aaron Sorkin’s marginal attempts to create a linear story this season.
Things have jumped ahead in time in the Newsroom continuum, to 2012. Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) is back in the swing at ACN’s New York office; Maggie (Alison Pill) is back from Africa after being horribly traumatized by violence. Rush Limbaugh has just called Sandra Fluke a slut, the loudest shot in the American right-wing’s election-year misogyny imperative and starter-pistol for the massive exodus of his advertisers. George Zimmerman has just shot teenager Trayvon Martin for walking-while-black in Florida; nude pictures of freakishly hot business news anchor Sloan (Olivia Munn) have surfaced. And News Night anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) ignores a phone call from his father back in Nebraska just before air.
The latter seems a minor device to continue the love/eyeroll cat-and-mouse game between Will and his EP Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer), given the implied ill-will between Will and his dad. It turns out his father has had a heart attack.
Jim and Maggie await the download of a 911-call transcript from Zimmerman’s stalking of Martin, giving them an opportunity to be snarky and awkward given that their horrible gawky flirtation throughout Season 1 proved a gigantic waste of everyone’s time. She hints that she has checked out the blog of his new flame, Hallie, which turns out a to be an opportunity for her to snip at him about something … which becomes an opening for him to mention she seems to be drinking a lot and maybe sleeping around, manifestations of creeping exponents of her previously established insanity. Her argument comes down to this: as long as she’s doing the work, it’s nobody’s business what happens outside of it, which, per Sorkin’s SOP, is a cue for her to screw up editing the transcript and toss out more poor-me crazy talk.
The only real plot movement this week is with ACN news chief Charlie (Sam Waterston) receiving a visitor. It is an old friend, now a press liaison for the Office of Naval Intelligence, and after some verbal gadding about, the visitor reveals the somewhat dark purpose: He has heard about D.C. bureau producer Jerry Dantana’s ongoing inquiries into Genoa and allegations that U.S. forces in the the Afghanistan theater may have used sarin gas on civilians.
“That’s a war crime,” the ONI guy says. “I mean, can you imagine? People’d go away for a long time. There’d be riots in the Middle East. There’d be riots here at home. Our allies would be in a fix. And America would lose any claim to moral authority around the world. If that’s the story you’re chasing.”
Charlie says he can’t talk about an ongoing investigation.
So the ONI guy retreads the same old Bush-era false choice sophistry. “[If] your son were a Marine,” he says, “and he was taken, and you knew he was a couple hours away from being sold for the purpose of a public beheading, would you have a problem with a MARSC unit conducting an extraction using any means necessary?” Islamist extremists have, he suggests, “a big f—ing crazy problem that is simply not addressed by Article I of the Geneva Conventions.”
Upon departing, he hands over the crumpled manifest for the Genoa mission, ostensibly to prove there was no sarin aboard anything. Charlie, however, thinks it might actually provide corroboration.
Again, it would be nice if this kind of plot involving interesting stuff composed more of The Newsroom, but I don’t mind more screentime, in the meantime, for Don (Thomas Sadoski), the 10 o’clock hour’s EP, who has morphed from a by-the-numbers, bad-news douche into kind of the heart of the staff and it’s most dependable comic voice. In a reflection of an actual incident in the batty echo chamber of right-wing news, an off-the-cuff bit of snark on Don’s part has become the source on a story going viral from neo-fascist crank news site World Net Daily. Ducking into his office to call WND and attempt to halt the story, he finds Sloan huddling against the wall in the dark, unable to cope with the scandal of her finance weasel ex-boyfriend having posted sultry pics of her online. After the standard bonding conversation about one losing control of one’s life, Don cuts to the chase and tells her she dates jerks.
“I’m saying you don’t have a very high opinion of yourself,” he says, “and I don’t get it.”
He finally gets through to a WND editor, to tell him that their story on an Obama appointee having spoken to a group called Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence is erroneous. The hack insists WND has “multiple sources” and that “It turns out your joke was right on the money.”
At which point, Don explodes, “I made up the f—ing name, David. There’s no such thing as the Righteous Daughters, What the f— is wrong with you?”
Inspired by Don, Sloan goes to the the douche finance weasel, interrupts a meeting and asks if they can talk. She then knees him in the groin and punches him in the face — then snaps a camera phone pic of his bloodied mug. The douchebag chases after her, only to run into Don, who — with comic aplomb — says, “No-no.”
At the end, McAvoy finds out his father died, and there is some dead air.
It all seems an eerily cavalier exercise.
New episodes of The Newsroom air Sundays at 10pm ET/PT on HBO.